Any work of fiction about time travel can be a marathon, needing to establish firm, clear rules to the process, and what happens in the timeline(s). Dark, Netflix’s first German-language series, must take the cake for sheer effort in its artistry. An absolute masterpiece of writing by Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese, Dark weaves a neatly tied story. To understand the series’ marathon of time travel, complicated family trees, and its non-linear storyline, multiple viewings might be needed. Luckily, this year has allowed us to watch the full series thrice over, so we shall provide an explanation for what is happening in this superb show. Let’s start with the first season, which premiered in 2017.
Feeling like a combination of Stranger Things and a Stephen King novel, Dark is set in the small German town of Winden, home to creepy caves and a sinister power plant. The time travel elements include pretty much every trope and paradox imaginable.
The Four Families
Dark revolves around four families; the Kahnwalds, the Nielsens, the Tiedemanns, and the Dopplers, who are connected by their intertwined, often rocky histories. The cast have to be praised, as we meet the same characters across different decades, and the resemblance between actors playing the same person in uncanny.
The Kahnwalds consists of our protagonist Jonas (Louis Hofmann), his father Michael (Sebastian Rudolph), and mother Hannah (Maja Schöne). Hannah has been having a long-term affair with policeman Ulrich Nielsen (Oliver Masucci). Ulrich is married to high school principal Katharina (Jördis Triebel), and they have three children; Magnus (Moritz Jahn), Jonas’ love interest Martha (Lisa Vicari), and Mikkel (Dann Lennard Liebrenz). Ulrich’s parents are Jana (Tatja Seibt) and Tronte (Walter Kreye).
Aleksander Tiedemann (Peter Benedict) is the nuclear power plant’s director. He is married to Regina (Deborah Kaufmann), who runs a hotel and sadly is diagnosed with breast cancer, and they have a son Bartosz (Paul Lux), who is Jonas’ best friend and dates Martha. Regina’s mother Claudia (Julika Jenkins), who ran the plant before Aleksander, disappeared 33 years ago.
The Dopplers are made up of police chief Charlotte (Karoline Eichhorn); her husband Peter, a psychiatrist, who is a closeted gay, causing tension with Charlotte; their daughters Franziska (Gina Alice Stiebitz) and the deaf Elisabeth (Carlotta van Falkenhayn); and Peter’s scarred, dementia-ridden father Helge (Hermann Beyer). Charlotte doesn’t know who her parents are, raised by her adoptive grandfather H.G. Tannhaus (Christian Steyer), a clockmaker, lecturer, and expert on theoretical physics.
Disappearances and Suicides
The story begins with the suicide of Jonas’ father Michael, who leaves a letter which must only be opened on November 4th 2019. Michael’s mother Ines Kahnwald (Angela Winkler) obtains the letter, which she reads. On the same day, Mikkel disappears whilst exploring the caves with Jonas, Martha, Bartosz, Magnus, and Franziska. Ulrich and Charlotte find the body of another boy, but it is not Mikkel, as this body is dressed like he fell out of the 1980s.
Jonas discovers that Mikkel travelled through time to 1986, where he was adopted by a younger Ines (Anne Ratte-Polle), becoming his father Michael Kahnwald. This means that Martha, his crush, is technically his aunt. Jonas gains Michael’s suicide letter from the Stranger (Andreas Pietschmann), a mysterious long-term time traveller, who carries a steampunk-esque time machine with him in a briefcase.
Two other boys, Erik Obendorf (Paul Radom) and Yasin Friese (Vico Mücke), disappear as well. Instead of growing up in the 1980s, the boys are trapped in a creepy bunker, tied to an electric chair-turned-time machine, and murdered in an attempt to get the device to work. This has happened before 33 years earlier. Ulrich’s brother Mads (Valentin Oppermann) disappeared in the 1980s. Turns out he was put in the time chair as well, and his body is the one found by Ulrich and Charlotte.
The Magical Mystery Time Tunnel
How does a cave network beneath Winden cause people to travel in time? There is a wormhole within the caves, accessible behind a door that reads “Sic Mundus Creatus Est”. Characters can travel 33 years across time, between 2019, 1986, and 1953. An incident at the power plant in 1986 created radioactive material, later referred to as the God Particle.
Claudia Tiedemann became the plant’s director in 1986, discovering the materials hidden in the caves by the plant’s founder Bernd Doppler (Michael Mendl). Ulrich finds a door to the radioactive material in search of Mikkel, but can’t get through it. When Charlotte gets a search warrant for the power plant, the toxic waste’s barrels have disappeared. Long story short, Aleksander is blackmailed by Hannah, knowing he is actually called Boris Niewald and is on the run from an unspecified crime. She prods him to get dirt on Ulrich for dumping her. Concerned, Aleksander and eyepatch-wearing cop Wöller (Leopold Hornung) hide the waste barrels beneath the power plant.
The Stranger finds several of the barrels in a semi-truck, removing some of the isotope to power his own time machine. We learn the portable time machine was built by H.G. Tannhaus, using blueprints given to him by an elderly Claudia (Lisa Kreuzer) back in the 1950s.
The door to the wormhole runs right beneath the creepy bunker where Erik, Yasin, and Mads died. The bunker belongs to Helge Doppler, who is in a dementia care home at the start of the series. He habitually mumbles, “It’s going to happen again.” All fingers point to Helge being responsible for the child abductions.
Ulrich, Helge, and Noah
Ulrich becomes convinced that Helge played a role in Mads’ death. When Helge wanders towards the caves, Ulrich follows, leaving a voicemail to Charlotte about his discovery of time travel. Ulrich gets lost in the caves, finds the wormhole’s door, and winds up in 1953 instead of 1986. He runs into his grandmother Agnes Nielsen (Antje Traue) and his teen father Tronte (Joshio Marlon). Ulrich then meets a young Helge (Tom Philipp), a timid kid who is abused by his mother Greta (Cordelia Wege), though his stepdad Bernd is a nice guy. It is implied Helge is a result of rape, explaining Greta’s coldness towards him.
Believing Helge will grow up to be a serial killer, Ulrich beats Helge’s head in with a rock, dumping his body in the bunker, though Helge actually survives. Ulrich is arrested by Egon Tiedemann (Sebastian Hülk), Claudia’s father, who has had a lifelong conflict with Ulrich. In the 1980s, an older Egon (Christian Pätzold) thinks teenage Ulrich is a Satanist, and was later arrested on allegedly raping Katharina (Nele Trebs), concocted by a jealous, young Hannah (Ella Lee). Ulrich is jailed in 1953, Egon believing he killed two children found in the foundations of the power plant: Erik and Yasin.
In the 1980s, an middle-aged Helge (Peter Schneider) is mentally vulnerable. He is indeed responsible for the child abductions and murders. Or rather, he is a puppet for Noah (Mark Waschke), a sinister minister who is building a time machine to change the future. Noah also recruits Bartosz to his cause, preying on his naïve nature, telling him that Jonas will destroy his relationship with Martha, and then cause an apocalypse. Noah has a connection to Charlotte and Elisabeth, giving the latter a pocket watch which has Charlotte’s name in it.
The elderly Helge confronts his 1980s self, trying to convince him to stop listening to Noah. When this fails, Helge tries to kill himself in a road collision, but old Helge fails and dies.
Jonas and the Stranger
Knowing the truth about his father, and with his relationships falling apart, Jonas decides to bring Mikkel back to 2019. He tried this earlier in the season, but was warned by the Stranger that altering history would erase Jonas from existence. When Jonas tries a second time, he finds Noah and Helge waiting for him. Jonas is captured, waking up in the 1980s bunker. The Stranger speaks to him through a locked door, revealing that he is an adult Jonas, and their future is bleak. Jonas is left in the bunker, whilst his older self goes to close the wormhole.
In 2019, Charlotte discovers a photo of Ulrich’s 1953 mug shot. Her husband Peter also knows about time travel, since Mads’ body fell through a portal into Helge’s bunker. Old Claudia instructed Peter and Tronte to place Mads’ body in the forest for the timeline to play out. Noah reveals to Bartosz he is aware of the Stranger’s plans, but it won’t destroy the wormhole, but merely close it. This event causes a portal to open between Jonas and young Helge. When they touch hands, Helge is thrown into the 1980s, whilst Jonas winds up in a post-apocalyptic far future.
Have you watched Dark? What were the biggest twists or more craziest moments for you? Leave a comment below, or on our Twitter feed!